New ‘Elvis’ movie doesn’t quite mind business


“Elvis” puts a little different spin on the musical biopic, I’ll give it that. It’s just that I’m not sure of the twist applied by the director/co-writer Baz Luhrmann everything is successful.

Following the life and career of the king of rock & roll from his childhood until his death in 1977, “Elvis” is truly the story of the rise and fall of the friendship between the title character (Austin Butler) and Colonel Tom Parker (tom hank). Along the way, Parker builds Elvis into an international superstar while exploiting the King’s talents for his own gain.

The film attempts to portray Elvis as a superhero, possessing a gift for electrifying audiences that proves both a blessing and a curse. Parker introduces himself as the wise old man who teaches Elvis how to use his power. But from the first syllable that falls from his lips, we know Parker can’t be trusted.

“Elvis” isn’t just a biopic, it’s an American folktale, a myth about one of the country’s most influential icons. It’s just a shame they left Luhrmann in the director’s chair for this one.

Luhrmann’s style as a director is an acquired taste. His use of flashy camera moves and editing tricks renders his vision in a way that really stands out. But while film is a visual medium, it is also a storytelling medium and Luhrmann tends to lose sight of the heart of his stories as he pursues his vision.

It definitely happens in “Elvis,” as Lurhmann crams in clever cut-to-length footage and epic aerial shots of various landmarks as the story of Elvis and Parker fades into the background.

These issues are made all the more infuriating by the presence of the same narrative flaw that plagues every career-spanning musical biopic. Because this movie spans Presley’s entire career, time has to go by and the big moments get the most attention. Important issues like racism and the political unrest of the 60s are brought up but don’t really get the time they deserve as we have to move on to the next scene where Parker does something disgusting. It’s like the “Greatest Hits” version of the King’s life.

These are major issues, but there’s also a lot of good stuff in “Elvis.” The acting is terrific. Butler gives a full performance as Elvis. I was a bit worried that he would impersonate Elvis, but he gives the character the full spectrum of emotions.

Hanks is the slimiest I remember seeing him as Parker. I totally hated this guy by the end of the movie, which means he did a really good job. It’s also a smart move to tell the story from Parker’s perspective. Having such an unreliable narrator is another wrinkle that makes this movie stand out.

Best of all, this film does a pretty good job of capturing just how powerful music can be. Whether it’s the musical awakening of Elvis’ childhood or the pandemonium wrought by his spinning hips, the musical moments in this film are fantastic.

Ultimately, “Elvis” has too many flaws to be truly great, but it also has too many good elements to be truly terrible. Your enjoyment of the film will likely depend on your tolerance for Luhrmann’s stylistic shenanigans. To me, all of this really means that “Bubba Ho-Tep” is still the king of The King movies.

2 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13


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